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Playing on Tabletop Simulator

I would think that what I say in this blog goes for Tabletopia also, I wouldn’t know specifically as I’ve not played on both platforms, but I don’t see any reason it would alter. I play on Tabletop Simulator (TTS) because that was the one that a friend was using, rather than from any inherent belief in the superiority of one platform over another. There are also other digital tabletops other than those two, and I’m not disparaging any of them either.

I was resistant to playing on TTS at first. I went to a regular gaming club and I got my fair share of additional gaming at conventions and the like, so I really saw no reason to pay for the right to be allowed to play games on a digital table with strangers. My opinion was first shifted when I saw how cheap, simple and convenient it made showing off a prototype game to playtesters and potential backers on Kickstarter, but I still wasn’t a big player myself. Then lockdown hit and I’m seeing the genuine upsides to digital tabletops, so I want to offer some encouragement to people who have avoided it so far on some reasons to give it a try.

It gets easier

The first thing I’ll say is, stick with it. The first time I played a game on TTS it felt like playing with boxing gloves on while using chopsticks, and I’ve heard something similar from friends for their first experience. Now, in my case I put together two full mods before my second game on TTS, but I imagine the same effect can be gotten by playing two or three normal games, and the inconvenience drops off pretty quickly. There will still be odd things that pop up, good luck dealing off the bottom of a deck if you use a Mac apparently, things will drop through other things every so often, stick to walls and accidentally disappear into bags, but as a rule you’ll find it not far worse than normal play fairly soon. I’ll also say that the residual weirdnesses that do crop up are generally outweighed by the real convenience of scripting on events and one click shuffles or quick deals. If you still can’t get it after four or so full games it might not stick with you, but don’t abandon it because the first game was slow and weird.

So near no matter how far

Obviously during lockdown however long it continues both in its full form and in the suspicion of gatherings that will no doubt persist after it is over, digital table tops offer a huge amount in convenience, but its still going to cut down on travel time to gaming meet-ups even after lockdown. Its not going to replace physical meetings, and I really don’t want it to, its not the same and it never will be. But I have friends with hectic jobs and fractious children who I want to game with. I’d rather get around a table and game with them face to face, certainly, but I respect the fact that they might not be able to give me four hours including driving time, chatting and set-up while they could give me two hours of digital gaming.

Aside from travel time, TTS has a set-up and pack-up time well below that of most games. The majority of mods come with the game all set-up apart from the parts that need to be randomised or based on player choice. What it means is that a game which lists 30-60 minutes can actually take that time from the moment that you decide to play it from the moment you finish rather than from the first turn to the last, which can be a big difference in the lives of the more time poor. It really lets you skip to the good bit surprisingly well and lets those in our lives who need to pack things into as little time as possible do so. If you have a gaming buddy that you’ve lost touch with since they had little ones or moved away, reach out to them again now with TTS, you could get in a whole game of Scotland Yard with a few buddies in the time they had blocked out for a poop.

Support your community

I don’t know what impact Coronavirus is going to have on the overall gaming industry, I suspect its going to be up and down overall. What I think is clear though is that it is going to kick the pants off conventions for at least 2020 and possibly for longer than that, and by extension its going to have a very negative effect on blind playtesting for independent designers. It is hard getting playtesters as an independent, and blind testers even more so. I have a group of great guys who playtest my stuff, but they know me and they know my shorthand. The playtesting that I get at a convention for a total stranger to play my game is invaluable to me, and it has gone this year. That’s going to have a knock-on effect either of the volume of games that comes out next year, or their quality, I for one am having to accept that a game I was hoping to launch in 2020 is going to have to slide back to 2021 at least.

In response, both independent designers and conventions are going online. UKGE 2020 is a virtual event, and its not alone. These virtual events are going to rely on one or another digital tabletop platform, so if you want to support them, and if you believe in the community you should, you’ll need to get yourself familiar with those platforms. Conventions are going to need to recoup losses of pre-booking fees and deposits, and the advertising revenue that they can get from free ticket virtual events is going to go a long way towards that. You can do your part to support your community this time just by turning up and engaging with those virtual events, your very presence and click through rates will mean that they can possibly afford to put on the physical events that we all love when it is finally safe to do so.

In addition, the gap of blind testers is currently being filled by digital tabletops for many independent designers. If you go on the Boardgame Geek “Playtesters Wanted” boards there has been a significant climb over the days of the pandemic in the number of tester requests that offer digital alternatives to play. If you want to help out independent designers and want to do your part against a possible glut of lower quality titles in the coming days, you can find those boards and threads, load those mods and give some useful feedback, and you can do it now, in the next few hours. You could stay sat where you are and in 60 minutes have your name in the playtesting section of a game of the future while supporting independent designers. What’s not to like.

Licensing issues

On the less fun side there is a real and legitimate concern over licensing issues with digital tabletops. A lot of mods are fan made, and are made by scanning in existing copies without necessarily the publisher or designer’s consent. That’s not nothing, and it puts some people off from going anywhere near these platforms, I can respect that and it’s a mixed issue. I’d say that there are some things to consider. Firstly, there is licensed DLC available on the platforms. Missed the KS for Dungeon Drop and have £2.89 to your name? Want a fully licensed version of Wingspan for just £5.79? That list of DLC is long and high quality. Secondly there are plenty of creators making mods of their own games for free who want you to download and play it. Either for playtesting or Kickstarter promotion, or in the growing community of digital tabletop creators who mod for the sheer joy of putting out a game to their community. I understand not wanting to support a platform that fails to police some breaches of license, but it’s worth considering the degree that so doing punishes those who are trying to get their game out there in a difficult new world while playing entirely fair.

In a greyer area, I’ve found that thus far 100% of the mods that I’ve played on TTS have been owned in physical form by at least one of the players, many TTS mods don’t come with full instructions making this something of a necessity. I’m not saying its ideal, but if you already own a game but want to be able to play it in our new world without having to pay for it over again, mods do provide a real service there. It is possible to find free mods that have the blessing of the game’s designers and publishers, it can just require more effort. If you make that effort, those mods will rise up the rankings and become more popular, resulting in more responsible usage of a platform that is a genuinely useful resource for our community.

Have you used a digital tabletop platform? How did you like it? Is it a big part of your Lockdown gaming life, or have you been avoiding it, and if so, why? Should I get onto tabletopia?


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